Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (A)
Good Clothes for Bad Weather
Picture: cc Ja-nelle

Sisters and brothers, these rainy days that we’ve been experiencing lately have reminded me of something someone said to me some years ago. At the time, I had recently moved from sunny Singapore to snowy Boston, and I might have been complaining a little about the New England winters. To which this person replied: There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. What do you think, sisters and brothers? Do you agree with that statement? I’m not sure if I do. At least not entirely. Especially not when I think of people whose cars have been washed away by flash floods, or whose houses have been buried by mudslides. Most of us would probably agree that people such as these are victims of bad weather.

But still, the saying does contain some truth, doesn’t it? The other day, I heard the barista at a coffeeshop complain about how, because she had had to walk through the rain to get to work, her feet were soaking wet. Which led me to think of the other people I’ve seen walking in the rain in rubber boots. Unlike the barista, I’m quite sure that those people managed to keep their feet dry.There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad footwear.

And perhaps what is true about baristas wishing for dry feet is also true about families hoping for peace. Today, on this solemn feast of the Holy Family, we are all praying for peace in our own families. But what does this look like? Sometimes I think that a peaceful family looks like a boat that is sailing on calm seas, under a clear blue sky. There are no financial hurricanes to worry about. No stormy interpersonal conflicts to navigate. No temptations to resist. No separations or divorces. No misbehaving teenagers or negligent parents. No personal hang-ups or addictions. There is only smooth sailing in wonderful weather. Of course, this is not a bad thing to wish and to pray for for our families. But even so, we may ask ourselves whether this is the kind of peace that the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph enjoyed.

We all know the Christmas story well. We know all about the less than ideal conditions in which Jesus came to be born. Mary was found to be mysteriously pregnant before marriage, so Joseph had to accept a child that was not his own. Caesar had proclaimed a census, so Jesus had to be born while his parents were still on the road. The inn had no vacancy, so they had to make do with a manger in a stable. Then, in today’s gospel, we are also reminded of the very challenging circumstances that the Holy Family had to face immediately after Jesus was born. To escape the murderous intentions of Herod, they had to flee by night into Egypt. And even after Herod had died, and they could finally return to Israel, they had to be careful not to settle in a place that was ruled by Archelaus, one of Herod’s sons who was particularly cruel.

Especially by our modern standards, these are terrible conditions in which to raise a family. And yet, this is precisely the family that is being presented to us today as a model for our own families. What is so striking about this family – and a sure sign of its holiness – is not so much that it never experienced any tensions and trials, but that it never allowed itself to be torn apart by them. If anything, the sufferings that it had to endure drew the members of this family closer to one another. And perhaps the reason why the Holy Family was able to endure such bad weather so well, was because it was always wearing the right clothes.

Our second reading gives us a good description of what these clothes look like. Here, the Christian community of Colossae is being advised to wear spiritual garments of a special kind. Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.… And over all these put on love.… And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Similar clothes are also being described in the first reading, which reminds us to keep the fourth commandment, to honor our parents and to care for them in their old age. Take care of your father when he is old... Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him.

These are the same clothes that Mary was wearing when she said yes to that surprising and scary request of the angel Gabriel. Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word. These are the same clothes that Joseph was wearing not only when he agreed to accept Mary as his wife and Jesus as his child, but also when, for their sake, he courageously embraced the life of a refugee. Above all, these are the clothes that Jesus was wearing when he declared: I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me (John 6:39) And when he proved it by laying down his life for us on the cross.

Today, what we learn from the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is that even though life may not always be smooth sailing, there are things we can do to keep the peace. And this lesson applies not just to our immediate families – our families by blood – but also to our extended families, our faith communities and, ultimately, the whole human family as well. Perhaps what the Holy Family is teaching us today is that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

Sisters and brothers, what kind of clothes are we wearing today?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas (Mass During the Day)
Good News That We Can See
Picture: cc neubda

Sisters and brothers, do you like to receive good news? How do you feel when you do? I think it’s probably safe to say that around the middle of this past week, many of us had the experience of receiving good news of a special kind. On Wednesday, after enduring many days of dark gloomy skies and miserably wet weather, we finally saw the sun come out. And it felt really good, didn’t it? It felt refreshing and invigorating. The brilliance and warmth of the sun’s rays lifted our mood and energized us. It made us want to go outdoors again. There was a rush of energy that was the result of receiving good news in a special way. Usually we enjoy good news first with our ears. But this sunshine after the storm was something we felt on our skin. This was good news we could see with our eyes.

Good news that we can see. This is also what we are celebrating today. Good news that we can see. This is what we find in our scriptures. In the first reading, the prophet speaks of a day in the future when the sentries of Jerusalem will raise a joyful shout, because they will be treated to a very moving scene. They will see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion. They will witness their friends and family members coming towards them from afar. They will see their loved ones finally returning home to Jerusalem, after having endured many difficult years in exile. And it will be a lovely and marvelous sight. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings. Not only will this be good news that can be seen, like the sunshine we had this week, it will also be good news that will energize and empower them. Although they were feeling gloomy before, they will now be moved to break out together in song. They will be given the energy to work together to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem.

Receiving good news that we can see. This is also what Christmas is about. And in a far more wonderful way. As the second reading tells us, although in the past God may have spoken consoling words through the prophets, now in Christ, God has spoken to us through his Son. In Christ, God has given us glad tidings that we can see. Except that what God shares with us in Christ is far more marvelous than any ordinary piece of good news. For Christ is the Word through whom God created the universe. Christ is the rising Sun that shines upon us with the warmth and brilliance of God. When we look upon the face of the Son of God, we see the delighted smile of the Father. In Christ, we see the marvelous good news that ours is a God who loves us and is on our side. In Christ, we see the incredible vision of a God who refuses to let us go, a God who wants so much to be with us that God’s Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Even more than good news, what we celebrate at Christmas is the coming of the Good God whom we can see. And if the good news of ordinary sunlight can refresh us, how much more will the glory of the Good God be able to energize and empower us. As we are told in the gospel: to those who did accept him, Christ gave power to become children of God.

But here is where we encounter something that may at first seem surprising to us. Today, our gospel also tells us that when the Good God comes to bring us light and life, instead of welcoming him with open arms, many reject him. He came to his own, we are told, but his own people did not accept him. But how could this be possible? How could people be foolish enough to reject good news? After enduring many days of bad weather, for example, who among us would reject a day of glorious sunshine? It doesn’t make sense, does it?

And yet, perhaps I must be careful not to be too quick to judge others. People may have many different reasons for rejecting good news. I need to realize, for instance, that when I speak about how much I enjoyed the sunshine earlier this week, I am speaking only from the limited point of view of someone living in a part of Santa Barbara that was left relatively unscathed by the storm. Here, the rain didn’t do the same damage that it did elsewhere. I wonder if I would still be saying the same thing, and feeling the same way, if I were living in the foothill community of Highland, in San Bernardino County, for example, where many homes had to be evacuated because of landslides. I wonder if I’d still allow myself to be energized by the sunshine, if my car had been swept off the road by flood waters, or my home buried under several feet of mud. Even if the sunshine could still energize and invigorate me under such difficult circumstances, it couldn’t replace my car. Nor could it rebuild my house. If I had undergone such traumatic experiences as these, I’m not sure that I would still be willing to allow myself to see and to enjoy the sunshine. I’m not sure that I would allow the good news of the sun’s rays to motivate me to rebuild the ruins of my own life, let alone the lives of others.

Even if Christmas is all about receiving good news that we can see, even if Christmas has to do with enjoying the brilliance and warmth of the rising Sun, it remains true that this is not always an easy thing to do. Even after having spent the four weeks of Advent preparing ourselves to welcome the Lord, there may still be various situations in our lives that make it difficult for us to recognize Christ and to rejoice at his coming. Not unlike an unfortunate victim of a mudslide, various experiences of darkness may prevent us from smiling at the sun.

And yet, it is especially for people in unfortunate situations that Christ came to dwell among us. It is precisely upon people living in darkness of some sort – people who have been suffering the worst effects of the storms of life – that the rising Sun wishes to shine. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Instead, out of the darkness, we see the brilliance of the Lord’s glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son. And here it is worth recalling that, in the gospel of John, the Father’s glory is most clearly seen when Jesus is lifted up upon the cross. The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen put it well when he wrote:

The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the Person of Christ, however, it was His death that was first and His life that was last.… It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life and thus led to His death; it was rather that the Cross was first, and cast its shadow back to His birth.

In this Christmas season, then, if there are any among us still struggling with darkness, perhaps it is upon the glory of the Cross of Christ that we need to fix our eyes. For this too is part of the good news that we can see. This too is part of the Sunshine by which God wishes to energize us.

Sisters and brothers, on this glorious Christmas day, how might we rejoice more fully in the rising Sun? How might we better allow the Good News that we can see to energize us today?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

4th Sunday in Advent (A)
Through Doorways of Danger
Picture: cc bookgrl

Sisters and brothers, what do you do when you feel that your living environment is becoming more and more dangerous? What do you do, for example, if crime is increasing at an alarming rate in your neighborhood? Or if terrorists are continually threatening to attack your country? What do you do? How do you react, when danger comes knocking on your door?

Especially in this modern society of ours, it often seems that only one reaction is open to us, that only one response is reasonable. It often seems that when danger threatens, all we can do is to try to keep it out. And we do this by tightening security. In our homes, we buy and install stronger locks and more sophisticated alarm systems. For our country, we man check-points, and set up border patrols. At our airports, we use more sensitive scanners, and give travelers more intimate pat-downs. In our world today, it often seems that, when danger comes knocking, all we know how to do is to tighten security at the door.

Of course, in itself, security may not be a bad thing. If we were truly living in a dangerous neighborhood, we’d be silly not to lock our doors at night. But could it be that when we make the search for security our only response to danger, we may actually be creating more problems for ourselves? Could it be that, in our desperate attempts at keeping our doorways safe, we may actually also be keeping out other things as well, things that may be very dear to our hearts?

This is a useful question for us to ponder especially today, as the season of Advent approaches its climax. Throughout the past three weeks we have been preparing ourselves to welcome the Lord. And yet, in the response to our psalm today, we hear a call that may sound puzzling to our ears. Let the Lord enter, we are told. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory. But why is it necessary to tell us this? When the Lord comes, of course we will let him enter! Of course we will open the door! Or will we?

Before we answer this question, it’s helpful first to pay attention to how God chooses to enter the lives of the people in our readings today. Both in the first reading and the gospel, we find someone standing in a doorway through which God wishes to enter. But not everyone lets God in.

In the first reading, the one answering the door is Ahaz, the ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahaz is facing a serious problem. The kingdom of Israel has entered into a military alliance with Syria. Together, these two armies from the north are threatening to invade Judah in the south. Ahaz’s kingdom is in danger. Yet it is precisely at this moment that the Lord tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. For some mysterious reason, God chooses to enter Ahaz’s life through the doorway of danger. But Ahaz is reluctant to open the door. He refuses to ask for a sign. He says he doesn’t want to test God. But perhaps he’s afraid of what the sign might say. What if it predicts his defeat and death? Better to opt for security. Better to keep the door locked. Even if it may mean shutting God out.

In the gospel too, God chooses to enter someone’s life through a doorway of danger. We know the story well. Joseph is betrothed to Mary. But before they live together he discovers that she is with child. And he is not the father. We can imagine how Joseph must be feeling. In addition to the shame that comes from knowing that his fiancee may be bearing another man’s child, there is also the danger that his reputation might be ruined by scandal. Even worse, the Law provides that someone in Mary’s situation should be stoned to death. All of which places Joseph in a dangerous position. Yet it is precisely through this risky doorway that God wishes to enter. It is exactly under such dangerous circumstances that God wishes to bring about the salvation of creation. An angel is sent to reassure Joseph. Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. Do not be afraid to open the door of danger, for it is God who wishes to enter in. Unlike Ahaz before him, Joseph obeys. And the prophecy is fulfilled. Emmanuel. God is with us.

Two people in similar doorways of danger. Two people with very different reactions. One is paralyzed by fear. The other finds courage. One remains obsessed with security. The other opens his heart and his life, and allows God to enter. But how is it, we may wonder, that one succeeds where the other fails? Perhaps the way they conduct themselves at the door is connected in some way to how they live their lives on either side of it. We know, for example, that both as a person and as a king, Ahaz had a very poor reputation. He is said to have lived a wicked life. He introduced and encouraged many idolatrous practices among his people. If such was his conduct in times of security, is it any surprise that he should find it difficult to trust God in times of danger? In contrast, in the gospel, we’re told that Joseph is a righteous man. Not only is he faithful to the Lord, he also respects and cares for his neighbor. Despite his shame at Mary’s pregnancy, he tries his best to find a way to save her. Even if he is afraid when God comes knocking – as anyone else in his place would be – he is able to trust God enough to open the door.

What then is the lesson that Ahaz and Joseph have to teach us today, sisters and brothers, if not that an obsession with security may well prevent us from allowing God to enter into our lives and into our world? And this is especially so because, whether we like it or not, God makes it a habit of entering through doorways of danger. We see this not just in  Ahaz and Joseph, but also, above all, in Jesus. As Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus was established as Son of God in no other way than through resurrection from the dead. Which is why, it is fitting that in our opening prayer just now, we prayed that the Lord might lead us through his suffering and death to the glory of his resurrection. Our prayer is that we may allow ourselves to be led through doorways of danger into the safety of the kingdom of God. 

As we offer this prayer today, I'm reminded of someone who had suddenly found herself afflicted with a rare illness that paralyzed half her face. Recently, she wrote to say that through the long and painful process of recovery, she felt the healing presence of God. Through the dangerous doorway of her illness, Emmanuel came to meet her.

I’m also reminded of these words from a hymn written by Sr. Miriam Therese Winter. 

Christ come quickly, there’s danger at the door.
Poverty aplenty, hearts gone wild with war.
There’s hunger in the city and famine on the plain.
Come, Lord Jesus, the light is dying,
the night keeps crying: Come, Lord Jesus.

Sisters and brothers, through which doorways of danger does the Lord wish to enter into our lives today?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

3rd Sunday in Advent (A) (Gaudete Sunday)
Waiting, Watching and Wagging Our Tails 
Picture: cc tinou bao

Sisters and brothers, sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, when you walk along Downtown State Street, especially on a busy weekend, you may see something very impressive. Or at least I find it very impressive. You’ve probably seen people leaving their dogs on the sidewalk when they go into a store or a restaurant. Have you ever noticed how these dogs can behave so very differently from one another?

Some dogs just lie on the floor, put their heads on their paws, and look like they’re really depressed at having been left behind. Others are just the opposite. They get very excited and distracted by everything that’s going on around them. They sniff at the trees, the dustbins, and the people passing by. You just know that, if they weren’t on a leash, they’d probably be running off somewhere. Then there are also the really impatient and demanding ones, who won’t stop barking until their master comes out and gets them.

But, if you’re really lucky, you’ll come across a dog who behaves quite differently. This fellow doesn’t bark or make a fuss. It doesn’t give any obvious sign of being impatient. But neither does it get distracted. Nor does it look depressed. On the contrary, although this dog remains quiet, its full attention is focused on one thing. Its body is positioned firmly in the direction of the doorway through which its master entered. And if there is a glass window, the dog will be eagerly looking through it, scanning the interior, watching for its owner. But what I find most impressive of all, is that very often, even while it watches and waits, this dog will continue to express its happiness by wagging its tail. Imagine that: left all alone on a sidewalk, while its owner is off having fun, and this fellow not only keeps watching and waiting, it even continues to wag its tail when it catches sight of its master through a window. I’m not sure about you, but that’s really impressive to me, because it’s something that I find truly difficult to imitate. Being patiently watchful in a bad situation is difficult enough. But being joyful while you’re at it? I find that a really tough act to follow.

And yet that is precisely the kind of mood we are being invited to cultivate on this 3rd Sunday of Advent. As you know, today is also traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete: that’s the first word of the entrance antiphon that begins our Mass today. And it means: Rejoice! As you watch and wait for the Lord’s coming, rejoice! Even if you are finding yourself in a bad situation right now, rejoice!

That is the central message of our Mass today. And if, like me, you find this call more than a little difficult to answer, then it’s important that, together, we pay careful attention to what our readings are telling us. For, as you’ve probably noticed, most of the people in our readings are finding themselves in really bad situations. In the first reading, the people of Israel are living in exile, far away from home, in Babylon. In the second reading, the Christians whom James is addressing are undergoing some kind of persecution because of their Christian faith. And, in the gospel, for speaking out against Herod, not only is John the Baptist sitting in prison, but before long he will have his head chopped off.

Finding themselves stuck in these bad situations -- not unlike those dogs left all alone on the sidewalk along State Street -- it must be truly tempting for all these people either to give in to depression and despair, or to get distracted by everything that’s going on around them and to give up their faith in God.

But even as they continue to suffer, all of them are being asked to remain true and not to give up hope. Isaiah tells his people to make firm the knees that are weak, to be strong, to fear not! James tells his people to be patient, to make your hearts firm. And, in the gospel, Jesus promises the Baptist that the one who doesn’t take offense at Jesus will be blessed. But that’s not all. These people are not just being left alone to do the impossible. They are also being given instruction. A secret is being shared with them. A secret for obtaining the grace from God to stand firm, the grace to rejoice even in their suffering.

This is the same secret that those impressive dogs on State Street seem to know so well, as if by instinct. When it feels like you’ve been left behind, and you find yourself in a bad situation, how do you keep waiting patiently without giving up hope? How do you even find joy in the midst of your sorrow? Much depends upon where you look. If you put you head on your paws and stare only inward, at your own difficult situation, you’ll get depressed. And if you focus your attention only outward, on the many things that are going on around you, you’ll just get distracted. But if eagerly you keep looking forward, to the coming of your Master, if you carefully keep watch for signs of his coming, then perhaps you may receive the incredible ability, the unbelievable courage, to wag your tail.

So, in the first reading, although the people may feel as though they are living in a barren desert, the prophet invites them to look forward, and to work towards, a time when the parched land... will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice in joyful song, a time when the Lord will return them to their homeland, a time when sorrow and mourning will flee, when they will be crowned with everlasting joy. In the second reading too, although the people may feel that God has abandoned them -- that they have been left all alone on the sidewalk -- James reminds them to continue looking toward the Lord who is already very close. Even now, the Judge is standing before the gates. And, in the gospel, Jesus has a similar message for John. To the one who is experiencing such bad things in jail, Jesus sends news of the many good things that are already happening for those outside: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

Sisters and brothers, when we look closely at our lives, deeply into our hearts, and carefully around our world today, it is likely that we will find much to feel sad about, and much to distract us from the Lord. But this doesn’t mean that we should just close our eyes and stop looking. What it does mean is that we should also look even more closely at the Lord who has come, and who is coming again, to make all things new, the same Lord who’s life, death and resurrection we are celebrating at this Holy Eucharist. We should keep looking for signs of his coming, in our hearts, in our lives, in our world.

Sisters and brothers, today is Gaudete Sunday. Today, even if we may be finding ourselves in a difficult situation, even if we may be feeling abandoned and alone, we are all being invited to rejoice.

Sisters and brothers, as we continue to prepare for the Lord who comes, how might we remain waiting, watching, and wagging our tails today?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

2nd Sunday in Advent (A)
Looking Beyond the Turkey
Picture: cc *clairity*

Sisters and brothers, as you know, Thanksgiving came and went a little more than a week ago. How were your celebrations? Was the dinner a success? And what is it that makes a Thanksgiving dinner successful anyway? Naturally, the food is a big part of it. Ideally, all the traditional items should be served: the yams and mashed potatoes, the cranberry sauce and the gravy. And, of course, in the center of it all, there should be a generously stuffed, deliciously cooked, and delicately carved turkey. Every year, much effort and care goes into the preparation of these items. But isn’t it also true that far more important than the food that is served at the dinner table are the people seated around it? 

We probably wouldn’t consider our dinner a success if, for example, the guests were fighting among themselves over where to sit, or if they were quarreling and exchanging hurtful insults, or if they were angry and not speaking with one another. In such a situation, even if the turkey was cooked just right, the dinner wouldn’t be a success, because more than just the food, Thanksgiving also involves a particular spirit. It has to do with gratitude and hospitality. In a truly successful Thanksgiving dinner, the guests should be feeling grateful for their blessings, especially the blessing that each person is for the others. And this gratitude should move each guest to be willing to act also as a good host. Each one should be willing to make space for the others, space at the dinner table, of course, but also space in their hearts. If we are unable to do this -- to be grateful and to make space for others -- then a crucial part of Thanksgiving is lacking. And, however much time we spent in the kitchen, our preparations remain incomplete and unfruitful. We need to look forward to the next year for another opportunity to prepare a more successful dinner. And, hopefully, this time round, our preparations will go beyond the turkey.

Something similar might be said about our Advent preparations for the Lord’s coming. In our first reading today, the coming of the Messiah is likened to the growth of a new tree from the roots of Jesse’s family. Jesse, as you know, was the father of King David. And we are told that this new tree will be fruitful beyond belief. When he comes, the Messiah will bring justice and faithfulness. Like a good host at a successful Thanksgiving dinner, he will make space at his table for the poor. And his justice will lead to a profound peace. Natural enemies will live in harmony with each other. The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb. All creatures will learn to make space for one another, even to the extent of changing their eating habits and modifying their instincts for survival. The usually meat-devouring lion will learn to eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. But neither of them will get bitten. And the reason why all this is possible -- why no harm is done on God’s holy mountain, why every living creature is willing and able to make space for the others -- is because a new spirit will be moving over the land, just as the water covers the sea. This is the same Spirit that rests upon the Messiah himself. This is the divine Spirit who will fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord.

But in order to properly receive the Messiah and his Spirit we require preparation. And it is to this same preparation that John the Baptist is calling the people in the gospel. John is the voice crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Although many people respond to his call and are baptized in the Jordan, John makes it clear that fruitful preparation involves more than simply going through the motions of having oneself immersed in a river. When the Pharisees and Sadducees come to be baptized, John warns them that they will only be sufficiently prepared to receive the Lord if they accompany the immersion of their bodies with a transformation of their hearts. In addition, they also have to produce good fruit as evidence of their repentance. Just as a successful Thanksgiving dinner requires much more than a well-cooked turkey, the Pharisees and Sadducees are being told that they have to look beyond the external ritual of water-baptism to the Spirit that should motivate it. Otherwise, in contrast to the fruitful tree in the first reading -- the one growing out from the roots of Jesse’s family -- their baptism will remain barren. And when the Messiah comes, he will lay an ax to their roots. They will be chopped down.

But how are they to repent? What kinds of good works should they perform? To answer this question, it may be helpful for us to recall who the Pharisees and Sadducees were. Elsewhere in the scriptures, we are told that they were deadly enemies of each other. They engaged in violent arguments over whether or not there is a resurrection from the dead. Also, the Pharisees’ strict interpretation of the Jewish Law led them to neglect and even to victimize the sick and the poor. It is understandable then that John the Baptist should call them a brood of vipers. Their stubborn clinging to their own prejudices gave them the tendency to bite people, as some snakes might do. In contrast to the cobras and the adders of the first reading -- the ones who left children unharmed even when they put their hands into their holes -- the Pharisees and Sadducees were unwilling to revise or set aside their own biases in order to make space for others.

If all this is true, then perhaps what the Pharisees and Sadducees need to do is the same thing that Paul is asking the Roman Christians to do in the second reading: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus. Welcome one another, says Paul, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. In other words, learn to be hospitable to others -- both Jews and Gentiles alike. Learn to look beyond the turkey of your own prejudices and immerse yourselves in the Spirit of the Lord.

And perhaps this advice is appropriate not just for the Pharisees and Sadducees, but also for us. Some say that American society is becoming ever more polarized. Politicians, for example, often seem more concerned with towing the party line than with passing laws for the sake of the common good. Within our own Church, we often find it difficult to speak to one another across the lines we draw between conservatives and liberals. In our families and local communities too, we may sometimes find ourselves so focused on our own comfort that we neglect the needs of others. Even if we may be willing to gather around a table, we are reluctant to make space for one another.

Sisters and brothers, on this second Sunday of Advent, as we continue to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, how are we being invited to look beyond the turkey today?